Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google Image Search--new and improved

Remember back in 2008 when we blogged about a new beta service called "Tin Eye" that allowed you to upload an image and find higher-resolution versions of that same image?

Well Tin Eye is still around and long out of Beta, but Google has come along with something better. They've improved their image search engine so that you can drag an image onto the search box and find other images--not just the same exact image, but also similar images. You can drag a photo from your vacation to Machu Picchu into the search box, and Google will find other photos of the same place.

Check it out at, or watch this short intro video to show you how it works:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Best TV Shows Ever

It's a tradition for the lab staff to make lists of our favorite things. We've listed our favorite candy, favorite songs, our high scores for various video games, and more. This time the summer lab staff (Jesse, Sarah, Dave, Chase, and Jonah) have listed their favorite TV shows. If it's already been erased by the time you're seeing this, here's a photo of the lists:

Not everyone agrees with our choices (I've already received one complaint that not a single person included "Pee Wee's Playhouse") but we stand by them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Intro to Lion Workshop

Thanks to Will Le, Apple's student rep on Penn's campus, for the great workshop he gave today on the newest version of the Mac operating system, Lion. It was a great introduction for anyone who's thinking about upgrading, or for people who have already made the switch but weren't quite sure how to take advantage of all the new features.

If you weren't lucky enough to attend, you can check out the new features of Lion at

Future Proof

What is Future Proof?
Here's what they say: "We write articles, craft interactive experiments, and create tools that help you develop mental and physical resilience in the face of an ever-expanding technology landscape. In other words, we make you futureproof."

FP is yet another fantastic project from the former VDML lab consultant Michael Highland. He and another Penn alum and friend, David Siegel are creating the company Futureproof. We've already written about their app "Awareness"-a tool to help heighten one's awareness of computer use. We should all be so lucky to be as considerate and attuned as we go about our daily tech business.

Take a looksee at the video to investigate further:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

InDesign FX is releasing a new series of online videos called "InDesign FX," with new installments to be released every other week or so. The concept is that each release will be a self-contained InDesign Effects project designed to be completed in ten minutes or less. Taught by expert Mike Rankin, the series explores every aspect of InDesign's graphic effects capabilities through real-world examples, all without relying on Photoshop or Illustrator.

There have been 4 releases so far:
  • Blurring Objects with Drop Shadows
  • Creating Interlocking Objects
  • Exploring the Effects Panel
  • Creating Long Text Shadows with Type on a Path
Watch this introduction video (2m 42s) and then drop by the lab if you'd like to watch the other videos.

000 Welcome to InDesign FX
InDesign FX | by Michael Rankin
View this entire course and more in the Online Training Library®.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with John Vogel

John Vogel has worked at Penn for 8 years. He was briefly in the Psych deparment and then at Wharton, but for the bulk of that time he's worked as a part-time annotator for the Linguistic Data Consortium. He's also a member of the Philadelphia-based band Grandchildren, and a very frequent user of the Media Lab for his solo work.

Q: What do you work on in the lab?

John Vogel: Almost everything I do comes through the lab at some point. I mostly do solo projects--mostly interviews--under my own name, that are on my Vimeo page, but I'm also working on a separate project under the name 'Eddie Sids'.

Battling Green Eye Shades was the last big video project I did. And then after I finished with that I started up these other 2 projects. One is called douthoux, and the other is White Zinfandel.

Everything on douthoux is electronic. And everything on White Zinfandel is supposed to be more natural. It's all written on piano first and then overdubbed with trumpet. I've been teaching myself flute and clarinet to overdub on that, and then electronic space sounds on top of that. And I'm working on both of those at the same time.

In addition to that, lately I've been cutting up the interviews I've been doing, because they have similar questions throughout them, and I'm making an edited version where they line up in certain places, and I'm writing electronic music for that. Over the last 2 months that's grown from not doing anything with it to having 45 minutes of material so far, and it'll probably be between an hour and 1:20 when it's done.

Q: And this is a personal project?

JV: This is all just for... fun. (laughter)

Q: What software and hardware do you use in the lab?

JV: I use Final Cut for all the video editing. Everything I do I have also taken the audio into Audacity here in the lab and mixed and compressed and amplified--just to brush it up, cut the ends off, and arrange it for tracking. And I use Garage Band for all the douthoux sampling.

Q: Where does the name douthoux come from?

JV: It was a random password that I don't use anymore, but I don't know, it just sounded like a European techno album to me. (laughs) So that was the idea going into it. I recorded my friends saying all the same utterances. Everything is grouped by theme, and I'm taking those themes and they represent the title of the track. And then for me, it's mixing the lines into a format where it sounds more like a conversation instead of excerpted lines, and then also cutting in usually standup comedy or TV or movies into that, and making something that has a narrative flow for each individual track and kind of explores the same theme throughout.

The video I'm working on now is for the 3rd track off of that. I did that as part of a live performance I did recently, and also 2 tracks off of White Zinfandel. I had 2 tvs running of my friends reading into the camera, and I edited all of that here, and my goal was to line them up, and now I'm trying to make them interesting and put them in a useful format. It will go on Vimeo as a stand-alone work, so it's not really intended as an accompaniment for the live performance.

Q: Where did you learn to do all the video/audio editing? Did you take classes? Did you teach yourself?

JV: I mostly taught myself. I also took some digital music classes in college at Penn State. We used a program called Digital Performer, which doesn't really get used anymore. Jesse and Sarah actually helped me a LOT here in the lab with the Final Cut Pro stuff. It would be the type of thing where I was working on a project where I'd sit down and really try to do something myself, and then I'd come to a spot where I didn't know how to do some technical thing, and they would show me, and that would really help me. I could go by myself for a little while, and then hit a spot where I wanted to do this one thing that I knew should be possible, but I didn't know how to do it, and getting help from the lab staff when I'd get stuck.

All of the music on Battling Green Eye Shades I did at the Music Technology Lab here at Penn in the music building my first couple years out of college. At the end of that, I wanted to do a video, and they sent me here to the Vitale Digital Media Lab.

Q: We're glad they did! What's your favorite part about the lab?

JV: The software is great. It's so good to have that resource, because all of the software is ridiculously expensive. If you try to get the kind of machines and software you have here at home, that's just ridiculous amounts of money that I don't have. (laughs) So just the availability of all of that stuff. The equipment lending has also been a big thing. I didn't even get into that until maybe a year after coming here pretty regularly. Just getting the cameras and the Zoom audio recorders has really helped with the interviewing that I've been doing. And the atmosphere and staff is just really helpful and cool. Yeah. It's just a good place to come.

Q: You've interviewed a bunch of bands and authors for Skyscraper Magazine and Beyond Race Magazine. How did that happen? How did you get connected to the bands and to the magazines?

JV: I'm actually the Fiction Books Editor for Skyscraper after just being a contributor for a few years. I was the Books and DVDs editor for Rockpile magazine here in Philly. I got started with them back in 2004 or 5, and I was with them until they crumbled due to financial problems. And about the same time, Skyscraper went from print to full digital online. When they launched their website they were looking for editors. I thought, I hadn't reviewed books and DVDs for a while, and it was something I really wanted to get back into, so they hired me for that.

I started doing the band interviews as personal projects before Skyscraper was up and running, so I was still in this middle ground where I didn't have anyone solid to publish for anymore. I tried to do the freelance thing, and decided I really didn't like the runaround of pitching articles. So I figured I'd do a project on my own collecting interviews. I already do interviews as part of my job at the LDC, interviewing people in microphoned situations daily, talking to people for 15-20 minutes at a time, and just keeping them talking is the only task. So you learn a certain amount of skill with coaxing conversation out of people. I wanted to apply that to something I really liked, and with people I really wanted to talk to. So I started sending out emails with this idea of just picking people's brains about the creative process, and I got a TON of rejections. And then just when I'd gotten to the point where I'd almost decided maybe this wasn't such a good idea, I got a response from Matmos saying they wanted to do it, and that really gave me hope and I just kept doing it. And it's continued right on up until now.

Q: Thanks for talking with me.

JV: No problem.

The live performance John mentioned in the interview consisted of two tracks each from his douthoux and Battling Green Eye Shades projects. They are: Technology, Personal, Glass One, and Glass Two.

Grandchildren Facebook:
Eddie Sids Facebook:
Battling Green Eye Shades on YouTube:

Eddie Sids Vimeo:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Future of the Justice System?

I thought this article from Boingboing was interesting, especially since this is the year of gaming here on Penn's campus. Apparently Notch, the creator of the popular game Minecraft, is working on a new project he's calling "Scrolls". Bethesda Games, creators of "Elder Scrolls" a popular role playing game is taking issue with this and asking him to change the name before it's release. Notch had a different solution in mind...

I challenge Bethesda to a game of Quake 3. Three of our best warriors against three of your best warriors. We select one level, you select the other, we randomize the order. 20 minute matches, highest total frag count per team across both levels wins.

If we win, you drop the lawsuit.

If you win, we will change the name of Scrolls to something you’re fine with.

Regardless of the outcome, we could still have a small text somewhere saying our game is not related to your game series in any way, if you wish.

I am serious, by the way.

So will this be the future of our legal system? Will we live in a digital "Running Man"-esque society? Here's hoping this event actually takes place.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The End of the Summer

If you're a Penn student who graduated in May, you've been lucky enough to have a whole extra summer to continue working in the lab. The bad news is that the summer break is about to end, the birds will start to head south, and you won't be able to use the lab anymore once September starts. The good news is you still have almost 3 whole weeks before the end of August! So use the time you have left to take advantage of of the hardware, software, and expertise the lab has to offer to finish up your projects before you disappear into the "real world" beyond college.

It's been really nice working with you all, and I hope we see you again over winter break or next summer when classes are out of session, when we allow alumni to use the lab (don't forget to bring your alumni card!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Password Strength

Here is an interesting take on how to optimize the strength of your passwords.
XKCD created this web comic based on this paper (PDF) about best practices for creating passwords. It is pretty different than the common accepted approach to creating a secure code, and would be much easier for most people to remember.
Take a look:

This was reblogged from where there is an interesting discussion going on about the legitimacy and difficulties of using this system.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Have you ever wanted to make your own font, but didn't want to be bothered with learning Illustrator or with buying font creation software? FontStruct is here to help. You can go to and use their online app to create your own font, then save that font as a True Type font (.ttf) to your local computer. It has tons of options for creating your font and a very simple interface. Give it a try!
Here are some interesting examples of fonts created on the site: